Maggie has become the greeter at our shelter. She barks for attention whenever someone walks in, then quickly settles into smiles and wiggles. She tries her best to please people, but gets passed by again and again for that pack of puppies waiting in the next kennel.
Maggie came to us after living on the streets for a while. She was thin, skittish, and had an ugly skin condition. After a few special baths and some medicine from the vet, she emerged a beautiful girl. At nine years old, this shiny Black Lab mix is healthy, well behaved on and off leash, and settles down easily. She is amazing with children, good with cats, and an eager trickster for treats.
So why is this bundle of love still here at the shelter after three months? Could it be the silver in her muzzle that makes people pass her by?
I have often wondered what it is like for animals who have lived with families for nine or ten or thirteen years to suddenly be dropped off at the shelter. One day they are home with their people and the next they are in a loud, funny-smelling place with lots of strangers and other animals all around.
Senior dogs end up in shelters for many reasons, including death or disability of the owner, a long-distance move, and divorce, but through no fault of their own. These loving pets all want and deserve someplace warm and safe and friendly to spend their final years.
Adopting older dogs (or cats) has many advantages. They make great companions, are housetrained, generally calm, and have established personalities. The transition period for senior pets is often easier and quicker than when you adopt a younger dog.
When our family decided it was time to add a dog to our pack, I told my husband there would be no puppies, that I was done with potty training for this lifetime. I knew a more experienced dog would be a better fit. Our kids were 10 and 6, and with all the usual after-school activities, puppy training would require more time than I had. So off we went searching for the perfect adult dog.
While Jake was not a senior when we adopted him, he was all grown up. We knew exactly what we were getting pretty much at first sight. We knew how big he was, how much grooming he would require, and that he had a calm and loving personality. He was housetrained, crate trained, and tolerant of my two active children.
Today, Jake is getting streaks of silver in his fur and has definitely slowed down some, but he still loves short walks and trips to the dog park for a quick run and lots of social observation. He is the perfect fit for the energy of our household and a true joy to be around.
On any given day, there are many dogs like our Jake available for adoption from local animal shelters. It is true that some of them need special diets or supplements or medications, as well as regular veterinary care, but this is true for many younger pets, as well.
Here are a few tips for keeping your senior dog happy and healthy:
- Provide a comfortable bed, especially for pets with arthritis.
- Keep him out of drafts and consider a pet sweater for outdoor jaunts on chilly days.
- When the weather is hot, provide plenty of fresh, cool water, frequent potty breaks, and someplace cool to rest.
- Provide short but regular periods of exercise to maintain proper weight and mobility.
- Get a thorough vet check-up to provide all the information you need to enjoy many happy years with your new best friend.
When you are out looking for your next animal companion, remember that there are many “experienced” dogs and cats in shelters who are waiting for families to call their own. In most instances, they know how to love and be loved and want nothing more than a safe and cozy home with kind people.
Take a moment to consider what these dogs have been through and what they have to give. In many cases, a senior dog is a perfect fit.
Tina Aedo is the Volunteer Coordinator for the City of Alameda Animal Shelter, www.ci.alameda.ca.us/animalshelter.